Melissa Bobick suggests giving yourself hands-on corrections if you're taking class on Zoom.

Nora Lang, Courtesy University of Utah

How to Make the Most of Corrections—Even If You're Attending Class Virtually

Dancers are taught how to take corrections from their first day in the studio. In fact, some might argue that your ability to apply feedback matters more than how high your développé is or how many pirouettes you can whip out. But how can you go about making yourself a more coachable dancer? Just like your technique, it takes practice. Once you enter a college program, you're expected to take more ownership of your training and focus on developing your artistry, not just the basics. And today, there's the added novelty of navigating virtual movement classes.

The Dos & Don’ts

Do write corrections down. "I'm a bit old-school I guess, but I still think taking notes during breaks or after class is great," says Mila Thigpen, chair of dance at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. Not only does writing down your corrections help you absorb the information, but it can also serve as a journal. As you progress, you can look back at all the feedback you've received.

Don't take it to heart. Dancers can sometimes take constructive feedback personally, especially since your body is your instrument. Thigpen asks her students to think of her as a coach rather than a critic. She finds that helps them separate the notes on their work from who they are as a person. And remember, receiving constructive criticism typically means your instructor sees potential in you.

Do ask questions. Not sure what your professor means by "dig deeper"? Ask! Sometimes it takes a second demonstration or a different phrasing for a correction to click.

Don't get frustrated. If you've already heard "Keep your shoulders down" 100 times and you're not even through barre, remember that applying feedback isn't often instantaneous. It's all about making it a habit, says Melissa Bobick, assistant professor and ballet program head at the University of Utah. Professors aren't expecting an immediate change, but they might keep reminding you of a correction until it's second nature.

Does Going Virtual Change Things?

In our COVID-19 world, it's easy to mentally check out while taking classes via Zoom. But remember, you'll get out of class what you put in, says Bobick. Here are a few strategies to stay engaged:

Listen to everyone's corrections. One of the benefits of live video classes is that you'll be able to hear all of the feedback your instructor offers to your peers, and chances are, you can apply it to your own dancing too.

Focus on feeling. If you're taking a Zoom class in your dorm room, you probably don't have the luxury of a mirror. Bobick says this is an excellent opportunity to dial in on how proper alignment and placement feels, rather than how it looks.

Give yourself feedback. View this time as a chance to take ownership of your training and practice for the professional world, Bobick says. "This is the beginning of that shift for students to be their own teachers."

Use your hands. Whether you're taking in-person or virtual classes, hands-on corrections are likely out of the picture. For tactile learners, Bobick asks them to place their own hands where an instructor might if they were offering a physical correction.

The Two Extremes

When you're not getting enough: Don't be afraid to approach your professor—with kindness and respect, of course—if you'd like more corrections in class. Ask if you can set up a time to chat about your progress, and let them know you're interested in more consistent communication.

Thigpen urges students not to jump to conclusions if they aren't receiving a lot of corrections. "Sometimes it takes us a while to get to know students, and we want to make space for them to process the feedback that we're giving," she says.

If the feedback feels destructive: There may be times when a professor gives feedback in a way that makes you shut down. If you need to, remove yourself from the situation. Take a bathroom break or step outside. After class, have a conversation with your professor about how the criticism made you feel and ask if it can be rephrased in a more constructive way. Although this conversation can be uncomfortable, it can set a precedent for healthy communication.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021